They say that when a baby is born; so too is the mother.
I loved discovering that quote in my tumultuous postpartum period with Sadie 2.5 years ago.
It made everything that I was feeling: the physical pain, the mental anguish, the suddenly rediscovered memories of my troubled past, the surges of previously unknown hormones, and the subsequent descent into a bipolar manic episode All Make Sense.
There’s another way to say this quote about babies and Moms and it is far less beautiful but equally as true.
When a baby is born to you and your immediately family; it Fucks Shit Up.
Babies come into this world messy as all hell. They are the Ultimate shit-disturbers. They come in screaming and raging and purple and Mad.
They come in quiet and peaceful and then scare the hell out of you by not breathing out loud for that first terrible 30 seconds.
They come out of your body in a ring of fire and a pain so exquisite you want to die.
Or they come out of you in a drug-induced c-section and make the ensuing weeks of recovery a living nightmare.
No matter how they do it- a baby’s entrance into this world is almost Guaranteed to Fuck Your Shit Up.
(I swear a Lot- and it might turn a lot of you reading this off- and I’m sorry for that.I’m only sorry for that if it means that my profanity keeps you from reading on- but please Do read on, because I think what I have to say regarding babies and trauma is Very important.)
I Wish someone had told me Any of this before I had plunged into having my first child.
Being a person with bipolar type 1, I knew that having a baby was going to affect me significantly in the trauma department.
I knew that as a childhood survivor of domestic violence, with two alcoholic parents and a somewhat troubled childhood, having a baby was most likely to wake some old skeletons in my psychological closet up.
But I was prepared.
I worked- for a Year- on a lengthy and detailed prenatal and postpartum psychological contingency plan with my family doctor, my spouse, my psychiatrist, and my midwife to ensure that all possible positive outcomes were met at various points throughout the pregnancy.
I was particularly proud of all of this planning, because for the most part- I came up with all of it myself.
I am lucky enough to be quite smart. I am university-educated, have an honours English degree and have an active interest in ongoing medical and psychological research.
I say this not to toot my own horn- but rather to say that as someone with a manageable mental illness- I have a Lot of tools at my disposal that allow me to come up with my own plans for how to best ensure my optimal mental health.
I read a Lot of books. I listen to a Lot of psychological books and studies on Audible. I have family members in healthcare that can help answer my questions. I have been blessed to have amazing, wonderful and open-minded psychiatrists for both of my pregnancies (and the odds of that happening are sadly Very, Very rare.)
I also have a very strong family and friend support network.
I have an amazingly supportive and strong husband (sidenote: we’ve been together almost 7 years now and engaged for 4 of them; we’re technically still unmarried due to Covid cancelling our two weddings so far- but we’ve called each other husband and wife for years now).
I have a wonderful stepmother who takes a very active interest in my mental wellness, and a sister who would literally die for me (or kill someone for me if she had to- thank the Lord it hasn’t come to that!).
I have another sister in Atlantic Canada who has been my role model for how to create a healthy family out of childhood chaos; and on both sides of my Mom and Dad’s lineage, I have multiple family members who adore the shit out of me.
All this to say-
When I birthed my first baby 2.5 years ago-
I thought I was ready.
And HOLY SHIT- I could not have been more wrong.
Despite my year-long efforts with my entire medical team to prevent a postpartum manic episode- I had one anyway.
Despite over a decade of working through my various childhood and adolescent traumas- they all resurfaced in postpartum, and twice as strong as they ever had in therapy- in the first 6 days following Sadie’s birth.
Despite my loving and wonderful relationship with my partner- we still fought like cats and dogs during the first 6 days of newborn parenting.
And so I very dumbly thought that after ALL of that-
Having this Second baby was going to be Easier.
I could skip the postpartum manic phase This Time.
I could not have to relive the childhood and adolescent traumas like last time- I would be more numb to them this time.
I would be even More prepared; have even Better coping tools.
The second postpartum would be Easier than the first.
Annnnnd- again- I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Babies. Fuck. Shit. Up.
And I think that’s a Wonderful thing- IF you are prepared for it.
That’s why I’m writing this article.
If babies are something you want to do- go ahead.
It’s one of the most wonderful and awful and beautiful and challenging and rewarding things you’ll ever do.
But- if babies are something you want to do- please do your current self and your future self some favours first, and be willing to take a long, hard look at the skeletons in your past before you embark on the parenting journey.
I’m only saying this as a warning to the next person, because I had NO idea how triggering having a baby would be.
I have multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (if you don’t know this term- here’s a little FAQ from the CDC:)
This term is explored a Lot in one of my Absolute Favourite Books of All Time- “What Happened to You”.
If I could recommend One Book, for the Rest of my Life, to Everyone I Ever Met- it would be that one.
The book explores the idea that mental health and mental wellness can basically allllll be attributed to childhood experiences, and to subsequent adult coping mechanisms.
And the best part about it is- it offers solutions. Real, easy, practical solutions that Anyone reading it can employ in their lives to help people they know that are dealing with trauma.
It’s a Wonderful book. Please read it or listen to it. It will very likely change your life, or at least your own understanding of it.
I am a survivor of multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACES) as they’re referred to in the mental health community.
Typically- kids like me that turn into adults- don’t do so well.
Because of our adverse childhood experiences (product of divorce, victim of abuse, witness of domestic violence, child of an emotionally detached parent, etc.)- we have developed coping mechanisms as adults that aren’t the healthiest as compared to other kids that are now adults who had easier/more loving upbringings.
We tend to date people that have trauma histories as well; we may drink or do drugs to cope; we may be victims of further domestic abuse; we tend to ‘go with what we know.’ If our childhood was messed up- we will likely mess up our own children (at least – that’s what the research shows.)
All that to say- when I had my first baby- I wanted to Do Better.
I wanted to break the cycle.
I wanted to be an awesome Mom, as mine was before me.
But the only way she became an awesome Mom is because she went through some trauma first, and she learned from it.
That’s my older sister’s story to tell- but my story is that I thought because I was So Prepared mentally, physically and spiritually for this impending birth that I could somehow skip the part where I had to relive my childhood trauma.
And that turned out to not be the case.
Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor turned childhood educator, had the following to say about children.
I love this quote because you don’t have to ascribe to any particular faith to know that it’s true.
Babies come from a special place. They come from the origin of all things. They come from some other place that we adult humans can’t see or imagine and they gift us with their presence.
They are sweet and innocent and wonderful. They hold the utmost potential, and we want to kiss them and hold them and protect them with All of our being.
Babies make adults Feel things again. Great, Great Love, and Great, Great fear. All at once.
When a woman has a newborn baby, she feels the depth of her emotions and the sum of all her adult experiences in a way she never has before. Or at least that’s how it happened to me.
(Trigger warning- paragraph below might be too much for certain people with trauma histories to read- skip over if this might be you.)
When Sadie was born 2.5 years ago, I relived a Lot of horrible things in my memory.
The feeling of being locked into a mental institution.
The screams of my mother during a childhood domestic violence incident.
The terror I felt as a child waking up to the sounds of other women wailing around us in a domestic violence shelter.
The sticky sweaty feeling of whatever that boy did to me when I was 7.
I felt all of it in the first 6 days of postpartum, as if it was all happening to me again.
Babies just have a way of doing that to you.
And the second time around- I thought it would be different- and it was- but it was still the same.
This time, in the first 8 days of postpartum, I relived all of the trauma that has ever happened to my uterus.
(Trigger warnings again in paragraph below)
I relived the experience of having a forced abortion.
I remembered begging the ultrasound tech to let me see the heartbeat of my unborn before I got wheeled into the OR.
She said no.
I know in my heart I would have kept the child if she would have let me see it’s little form.
I remembered the sight of my miscarried baby in my underwear, before Sadie came along.
We had named him Henry.
I miscarried early in the pregnancy, but it didn’t matter that what I saw in my underwear was under 8 weeks old- I saw enough to be devastated emotionally.
After that miscarriage, and my subsequent termination of employment, I didn’t leave my house for 40 days.
I relived all the pains of my uterus this time around, and then again, but to a lesser extent, all the same traumas that had driven me into a manic episode in Sadie’s postpartum.
But this time- something was different.
I was no longer afraid of them.
I knew they were coming.
I know they’re a part of my past, and that I can’t change them.
So I just stopped resisting.
I let myself feel something when they resurfaced this time. I breathed into them and let the pains wash over me and I cried if I needed to.
I breathed through them when they hurt too much.
And I unclenched my fists and I opened my heart and I Let Them Hurt.
And then I released them.
And then I fought like hell with my spouse. For days. For weeks.
Until my psychiatrist gave us an emergency counselling session and told me that I made everything look easy and that I covered everything with my strength and intelligence and humour, and that that was causing my partner to not be able to help me with my emotions.
So we drove for an hour out to the country and I clutched my coffee cup and I breathed deep and I summoned some weird-ass robot voice and I deadpanned some of the traumas for him- out loud.
I held nothing back. I gave details. I let myself cry. I Let myself be vulnerable.
And he saw Me. He saw All of Me. Or at least some parts of me he had never seen before.
And we became stronger for it.
Little Lucy has just woken up again and is demanding milk- so I’ll leave it at this for now.
Babies are wonderful. Babies are terrifying.
Babies wake shit up psychologically and spiritually and emotionally in a way that can’t even be described.
If you are someone who wants a baby, I wish you the best on your journey.
If you know someone who wants to have a baby and might have some childhood trauma history, please have them read this article.
I wish someone had have warned me about all of this before; it definitely helps to be prepared for the storm a baby brings before it actually hits.