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Healing from a traumatic birth

Bridget Wood

By Lael Stone

The doctor stood at the end of my bed with an incredibly sombre look on his face.

“We don’t expect her to live through the night and if she does, she will most likely have brain damage”

This is the not the news that you expect to hear once you have given birth. In my drugged state, I took this information in and realised that the only thing I had control over was my blind optimism and faith in my daughter.

A few hours earlier, in labour,  I had been taken to theatre as my baby was breech and not in a viable position for a vaginal delivery. When I had the spinal put in place, I had a bad reaction to the anaesthetic and in turn it made my baby's heart rate crash. The Obstetrician worked with incredible skill to get her out as soon as possible, but she was deprived of oxygen for a very long time. 

Her prognosis was very grim and all we could do was wait, stay positive and trust.

She spent days in an Induced coma cooling her body to ensure her brain didn’t swell. She had CAT scans, MRIs, every test under the sun and on the fourth day when they removed her Intubation tube, much to everyone’s surprise, she miraculously breathed on her own. After many tests and much disbelief from nearly all the hospital staff, they couldn't find anything wrong with my daughter. Whether it was her fighting spirit, our blind faith that she would be alright or really a miracle, she came through the ordeal and we got to take her home 10 days after she was born. A normal, healthy baby, who had very rough start.

The days she was in the NICU were some of the most challenging of my life. I learnt about letting go and surrender on a scale that I had never experienced before. As I sat by my baby’s ICU cot, I kept reminding her that I trust her completely and she could do whatever she needed to do. Stay or go.

Leaving the hospital each night to come home and sleep was so hard. I would wake every few hours to express milk, thinking about the strangers that were looking after my baby. 

I wasn't there when she cried, I wasn't there to feed her, I wasn't there to protect her. 

The feelings would sometimes overwhelm me and I would burst into tears that I wasn't with my baby. I would cry in my husband’s arms,

 “I don't even know her, I don't know what she smells like, what she really looks like - I don't know her”

So many feelings that were overwhelming, I had to stuff them down so I could still look after my 2 other children and hold it together so I could concentrate on getting her home.

The day we finally brought her home, I remember walking in the door and knowing that it wasn't over. We had all been through a very big experience and I knew enough from my work that all that stress, separation and trauma had to go somewhere and sooner or later it was going to come out.

As life settled down and I learnt to juggle a newborn and a 4 and 7 year old, I started to see the cracks appearing. For the first time in my life I started to become very anxious about my older children. I started to think that something was going to happen to them, that they would get hit by a car or someone might take them. I started to fret and worry about safety. Anxiety was starting to whisper to me about the trauma I was holding. 

My beautiful newborn daughter started to show signs of tension and stress. Making constant movements with her hands and sucking furiously on anything that would go near her mouth as a stress release.

It was time for us to do some healing. I started by working on our bodies, having regular Cranial Osteopathy to start to bring back some balance and thanks to a friend I stumbled across the work of Dr. Aletha Solter.

Dr.Aletha Solter is a Swiss/American developmental psychologist, who is recognised internationally as an expert on attachment, trauma, and non-punitive discipline. When her first child was born in 1977 (following a traumatic birth) she did not find any parenting books that advocated attachment-style parenting and non-punitive discipline while taking into account the impact of stress and trauma on children's development. 

Dr Solter's book ‘The Aware Baby’ was both groundbreaking and challenging for me. She spoke about babies' needs to release stress and trauma through attachment, laughing and crying. She was talking about a completely different way to be with babies and children to help them release their emotions. I was coming from a modern way of parenting which advocates ‘a good baby’  where the baby never cries and sleeps through the night. I had spent years and years with my older children trying to stop them crying and spending hours upon hours of rocking them to sleep.

Here was a different idea, that once a baby's needs had been met ( hunger, sleep, etc ) if the baby was still crying or upset - just be with them. Hold a space for your baby to release any pent up feelings or emotions.

A light bulb went off for me. Everything I read made complete sense. I didn't like shutting my older kids down when they had big feelings, but I just didn't know how to handle it.

So I started slowly and each day when I had a quiet space I would take my baby into my room and hold her gently. I would look her in the eyes and say to her, if there is anything you want to let go of, I am listening. Nearly every time, she would start crying. Sometimes it would be for 5 minutes, sometimes half an hour and each time I would hold her gently look her in the eyes and tell her I am listening.

Sometimes I would cry, feeling overwhelming grief or emotions bubble up. I would just cry and let them out and sometimes I was able to sit there in such peace, just holding my baby who was letting her body do its thing as it released all the stress and trauma. Every time my baby finished crying she would make long deep eye contact with me and either smile and engage or fall into a deep sleep.

Each day I would see and feel a difference with my daughter. The frantic tension in her body eased and I felt a connection with her that was so deep and profound. My Osteopath would comment on how different her body felt and how relaxed she was. I was in no doubt, this was the path to healing. The change and healing within me was also incredible. My anxiety disappeared and I felt so deeply bonded and connected with my daughter.

As time went on, I learnt more about Aware Parenting and started to work with different ways to help babies and children release. I started to do Attachment play with all my children. Using play and laughter as a way to help kids feel more powerful or deal with fears or anxieties. 

My baby and I would spend time rolling around on the floor engaged in laughter and connection as well as times when she needed to cry and release.

Extreme laughter and play and intense crying all became part of the norm in our house. I began to see shifts in not just my youngest daughter but also my older children. There was so much more harmony in our home. My older kids didn't need to act up any more as when they had feelings happening, instead of getting aggressive or using  unfavourable behaviour, they would come to me and let it out. Sometimes through rough and tumble play - sometimes through tears.

I become so inspired and assured of the power in helping our children release feelings that I became an Aware Parenting Instructor.

My beautiful baby is now a thriving, amazing 8 year old. I have been listening to her feelings now for 8 years and what I have witnessed is a child who has the most extraordinary emotional awareness. She will often articulate in an instant what she is feeling and ask for what she needs.

“ Can you cuddle me mum whilst I have a cry “


“ I've got some mad feelings going on - can you rumble with me so I can get them out”

Our journey from Birth to now was a big one, but through listening to her and therefore listening to myself, the healing that took place was even more profound than the story itself. I am so very grateful for the journey we had together. It taught me so much professionally and personally and showed me that no matter what happens in our world we can always heal.

Lael Stone is a proud mother of three children who has worked as a Birth Attendant/Doula, Childbirth Educator and certified Calmbirth Instructor since 2004. From a background in wellbeing and counselling Lael was compelled into the field of childbirth education by her own birth experiences. Lael has interviewed and collected birth experience data from hundreds of Australian women throughout her career. This data provided insight and motivation to develop the About Birth Online Education Program, a pioneering way to learn about birth and early parenting. Lael has spent the last few years working one on one with women around fears in their pregnancy, negative birth experiences as well as working with families to develop more connection with the Aware Parenting model. She is a certified Aware Parenting Instructor and runs regular groups for mothers as well as workshops and private sessions. Her passion is to create wellness in families through connection, communication and education.

EVENT: Hear Lael speak on the Q&A Panel at our event 'In Utero' on 13 July (early bird tickets end 1 July)