“Just be thankful for what you got”
“It could be worse.”
“Many people would give anything to have a baby.”
“It’s not about the birth, it’s about the baby”
“A healthy baby is all that matters”
These are all things that people say without a second thought. They are meant to be comforting and positive. They are said to make a mother not dwell on the fact that her birth was not as she hoped. Maybe it comes from a place of love: not wanting to see mom hurt. Or maybe a place of sympathy: giving the mom permission to not care that she did not bring her baby into the world the way she wished. Maybe some even misinterpret her disappointment of her birth for not being happy about her new baby and feel it’s their place to give her a reality check. No matter the reason the “healthy baby card” is not meant to hurt… but it does.
In part one of the ‘Healthy Baby Card’ we talked about why a birth experience is important, now it’s time to talk about why ‘The Healthy Baby Card’ should never be pulled on a mother who is experiencing birth grief. ‘The Healthy Baby Card’ is when a person expresses the belief that all that matters is a healthy baby. To outsiders it seems like a way to help the mom hold her head up, look at the glass half full, or be thankful for what she has. In reality ‘The Healthy Baby Card’ is one of the worst things for a mom with birth grief to hear. It devalues the love she has for her baby and undermines the grief of losing out on a positive birth experience for herself and her baby.
A woman who has gone through a difficult birth experience has given up a lot to bring her baby into the world. One thing that ‘The Healthy Baby Card’ does is undermine what a Special Scar mom (or any mother with a difficult birth situation) has given up to get her child earthside. It’s an act of love to give your body up to be cut open and to give up loss of control. We are ecstatic that our baby is healthy, we gave up our hopes, desires, and moment of strength for our baby after all. Grieving the loss of our dream birth is a separate grief that has nothing to do with a healthy baby.
It’s also worth mentioning a healthy baby does not mean a healthy mom. If the birth trauma a mother faced was due to her own health she may feel guilt that her own issues got in the way of her child’s birth. On top of it health issues can make it hard to perform other parenting duties. C-sections take a long time to heal from and a mother will not be at her healthiest peak afterward. Healing from major abdominal surgery is painful. The mother will feel weak and in pain, possibly loopy from medication and even getting up to use the bathroom is painful. In any other situation a person would be told to rest and heal, but add caring for a new baby ,as well as any older children he may have, that is a lot to take on at once! Some women respond badly to medication given and spend the first few days of babies life sick and unable to care, bond, or even hold their new baby. The mental health of the mother may also be affected after a traumatic birth. Throw in the news of your new Special Scar and all of the normal post baby hormone jumps such as baby blues and a mother may feel as if her own mental health is lacking.
By focusing all of your energy on the importance of the healthy baby you are -possibly unintentionally- implying that once a women becomes a mother her own health has not importance. But as the old adage says “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” A happy well adjusted baby needs a happy, well adjusted, and healthy mom. For breastfeeding mothers the baby and nursling are often considered a pair and affect one another’s health and well being! If Mama’s health is in jeopardy babies can quickly decline from healthy to sickly. Mothers health – mental or physical – is just as important as her baby’s.
Many women get their Special Scars due to complications with the baby. Some of these babies were born prematurely or with other health issues that land them in NICU. If this is the case the ‘healthy baby card’ can hurt more than ever because their baby is in fact not healthy. An alive baby does not equal a healthy baby. Sometimes people will replace ‘the healthy baby card’ with the ‘alive baby card’ and say something along of the lines of “be thankful your child is alive. It could have been worse.” This is very hurtful and cruel. Remember that often times a mother with an unhealthy baby is spending all her time watching her new baby fight for life in an incubator. She is often not allowed to hold her new baby and she has to watch as her little one fights for her health. She is very thankful her baby is alive, but naturally she is saddened by the loss of skin to skin contact and the joy of bringing your freshly born newborn into your home. The last thing she needs is guilt for grieving the loss of the first few weeks with her baby she always dreamed of that is a part of the healing process.
As time goes on some mothers may figure out that their birth experience could have gone differently. Maybe scare tactics were used on them or maybe they were just uneducated or fully put their trust in their care providers. As the pieces come together for the women who were subjected to false emergencies they may start to grieve all over again and question things. Often times loved ones around them don’t understand the opening of the old wounds and ‘The Healthy Baby Card’ comes out in a much stronger and more criticizing way. Friends and loved ones may question why the women is suddenly obsessing over the “what if’s” when her baby turned out fine. Often times the women is finally finding what she needs to take control of her body again and it working through the facts and learning through her experience, she is healing and taking control. As those around her guilt her for worrying about anything other than the fact that she has a healthy baby she starts to feel guilt and her healing process is halted, often suppressed, as she starts to question herself even more. Comments such as “Well it all turned out ok. She seems healthy now” are simply not supportive or helpful to a mother who is working through her emotions.
So you now may be wondering what you can say to a mother who is upset and grieving her experience. In part three we will discuss some options for supporting mothers who have Special Scars or other experiences that resulted in a less than desirable birth experience.