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When Childbirth is Not What You Expected

When we think of having a baby, we think everything will be alright. After all, being pregnant and giving birth are natural processes. Women have been procreating since the beginning of humanity. Even if this is accurate for most women, many of us experience childbirth trauma of some sort. In some cases, the mother’s health is at stake; in other cases, the trauma is related to the baby needing to go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). When pregnancy and birth don’t go as expected or bring about a high degree of fear, parents are deeply affected and often feel lost.

When I started my career as a pediatric nurse, I had the opportunity to work in a NICU. I was delighted to obtain this job because I loved babies - so, I thought this was the perfect job for me. Although I was ready for the challenge, nothing had prepared me for what I would experience. The NICU is a strange world of machines and beeps. When you enter the NICU, you can feel the tension and the stress, but at the same time, a type of calmness and serenity. At first, you only see the machines, and then you see the tiny babies. They are so perfect but simultaneously so small. They look fragile but are also strong. Through my time working in the NICU, I fell in love with premature babies.

For years, I took care of my little patients and their parents. Parents who have their newborns in the NICU feel so lost and scared. They also deal with uncertainties that lead to many questions. How will my child sleep with all this noise? How will my child be tomorrow? Will the nurses take care of my baby correctly? Will my child have sequelae? Will my child still be alive tomorrow? So many pressing questions, often with no answers. It is a universally scary experience to have your baby in the NICU. Therefore, each day that passes is a victory - one step closer to health and to going home. Many new mothers feel the emptiness of their nest and do not know what to do. Parents don’t know how to connect with these tiny babies who are hooked up to machines. Consequently, many parents understandably develop postpartum anxiety and depression or even post-partum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My job was to support parents and babies through this traumatic experience. I comforted babies and parents and helped parents to connect with their babies with massages and music. I encouraged skin-to-skin contact, singing lullabies, and holding hands. I experienced happy moments when a child was going home and sad moments when a child did not make it. I did all of that for the love of these tiny babies and their parents. I cared for them, and they gave me so much in return. Love lives in the NICU and we can all feel it even during the worst moments.

In my new role as an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at Family Tree Wellness, I developed a support group for people who’ve experienced “Childbirth Complications” because I believe you should not be alone during these difficult moments. I want to help you to feel supported and give you hope. In this group, you will find your community; everyone who has experienced any difficulty with childbirth is welcome. This group is also for people who experienced childbirth trauma (including unexpected outcomes/interventions) and feel confused, scared, lost, or lonely. Come join me on November 16th. We will develop a safe and supportive space together.


Written by Estelle Drahon-Servel, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (Supervised by Jessica Sorci, LMFT #53881)

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