How a mum's experience of birth trauma lead her to find strength in mindfulness
Niki Wilson, shares how she managed to put a positive spin on her life after the struggle with her health and mental illness following the birth of her first child. She now practices and teaches mindfulness. Read on to find out more.
A snippet from my diary – March 7th 2017 - my second son Matty was one week old: “What do you do when you feel so elated you could scream and smile so widely that your face might break?” Hormonal haze aside, this happiness high was real. I was A.L.I.V.E. and I felt well.
Scrolling back three years, I was pregnant with my first son Thomas, and it was all pretty rosy and romantic. My pregnancy bubble was not only massive but impenetrable - I was having a baby and I was going to rock the mum world. But then I gave birth and let’s just say ‘the plan’ did not come together (does it ever?).
Three days after the birth, a perfect storm of physical and mental events brought me to a life-time low. I shut my eyes and couldn’t open them. I genuinely believed myself to be dying and said goodbye to the most precious people in my world. To state the obvious, however, I didn’t die. Nor was I in fact dying at the time. But, unfortunately, our minds do an extremely decent job of processing believed events as real.
My ‘near-death’ experience sent my primitive brain into fight and flight overdrive and I retreated into myself. Even the most basic stimulation - like looking at my phone - made my nerves go wild. Within two weeks I couldn’t look out of the window without having a panic attack. I was housebound and afraid of everything. We had no clue at the time but this was full blown post-natal PTSD.
Nine months later, still a shell of my former self, I went back to work. In hindsight this was borderline bonkers but I needed to prove I could be ‘normal’ again. I took things slowly as far as possible and tried to keep things light. I also started a daily ritual on my commute which saved me time and time again. I called it my ‘three m’s mantra’ - Make up, Meditation and Medication. Slowly slowly, the ‘new normal’ me took shape.
I’m honestly not sure how I managed to convince myself (and my husband) to have another baby. I joked to my friends that I’d get pregnant again, then get a therapist. They kindly suggested these things should probably come the other way around. So I took heed of their advice and found the amazing Julianne a.k.a. my 'pregnancy project manager'.
Sooner than expected I did find myself pregnant again and I’d be lying if I said it was easy. I spent large parts of the nine months pushing uphill against gale force winds which regularly blew me over. But I always clambered up again, finding comfort and strength in three vital steps:
1. We worked with Julianne and the NHS to design pragmatic and holistic plans for the pregnancy and birth which minimised as many risk factors as possible.
2. Julianne continually looked me straight in the eye and said with certainty, “it won’t be the same” (and I can’t describe how much her expert-led opinions mattered to me).
3. I learnt to find strength in vulnerability, to be kinder to myself and to use therapeutic tools to help me to be present, instead of getting lost in the past.
Matty exited out of the sunroof a week earlier than expected. This wasn’t plan A, but we had plan B in place and thanks to the awesome team of people involved in my pregnancy, a big red ‘look after this lady or else…’ alert popped up on the computer screens when I arrived at the hospital (cue a lot of attentive medical professionals doing their very best to keep me sane).
During the long night I spent in early labour, my husband kept on gently saying these four life-saving words: “it’s not the same”. Deep down, I believed it too. When Matty was unceremoniously lifted from my stomach the next morning, he didn’t even cry. He was calm and strangely I was too.
I was slightly concerned that Matty’s aura of peace was attributable to the anti-anxiety medication I had started taking in the final trimester of my pregnancy. However, after completing their observations the midwives concluded that he was perfectly normal and I was further reassured to be told by one midwife that she had never seen a baby show withdrawal symptoms from Sertraline – a drug I still take now.
The familiar blur of sleepless nights soon ensued. However, I did stop to mark a few of the moments I hadn’t been able to savour the first time around, raising a large glass of champagne to celebrate Matty’s arrival and taking him out on his first official pram push. Without getting too godly I genuinely felt healed and, one year on, I can officially say that I feel like me again.
Of course, there have been wobbles. When Matty was three months old, I lifted Thomas onto a trampoline and an inner voice screamed “No Nikki!”. I felt weak, overwhelmed and started to panic. I had to SOS my sister-in-law to come to our rescue, me a blubbering mess. I knew straight away I had fallen into the usual trap of that old chestnut… doing too much.
The post-natal PTSD has clearly left me more prone to anxiety and tiredness than before. I’m pretty good at predicting what will tip me over the edge, but that doesn’t mean I’m good at stopping myself before the edge is in sight. However, I swear by one tool which keeps me grounded and encourages my brain cells to settle: meditation.
I started making a daily habit of taking 10 minutes out for myself after Thomas was born. Guided meditations on acceptance and self-compassion helped me to see sunshine behind the darkest of dark clouds. As the years have gone by, it’s a habit I have stuck to and it’s even inspired a new social business called 10 of zen (exciting details below).
With the right tools for self-care, I want anyone who has suffered with birth trauma to know that having another baby is not an impossibility. We have experienced a normal reaction to an abnormal life event and it’s a common outcome of difficult births. Our bruises show we turned up for the fight but they don’t mean we have to keep fighting. Gently and kindly, it’s possible to move forwards and discover new gifts we never expected.
10 of zen provides mindfulness tools and training for mums. We focus on 10-minute soundbite sessions aiming to help mums to stress less and love more. www.10ofzen.com
10 of zen offers:
Free 10-minute meditations on Instagram Live every other Wednesday @tenofzen
Zen Personal Training delivered over the phone in 15-minute sessions. Currently under free trial.
10 of zen retreats. Spaces available on 14-16th September. Luxurious accommodation, wholesome food, mindfulness teaching, yoga, walking and wine tasting. £349 per person all-inclusive. Goudhurst, Kent (45 mins from London via train)