(TRIGGERED) New mums, midwives, controlling in laws & Family Violence.
This topic has been my most heartbreakingly difficult piece. It is one of the topics I am most often asked about but have not previously shared.
I wrote this article a number of months ago exclusively for the Australian Midwifery News at their request. As the magazine heads to the publishers, destined for an Australian wide audience of medical professionals; I have secured permission to share he article with those not exposed to the magazine.
I send this out with so much love. You’re not alone girl! XO
An open letter to the INVINCIBLE new mum & her midwives.
The day that my daughter was born was the best day of my life. It was also the most stressful.
As I collected Eva from the bed below me, immediately after birth, I remember looking at her and simply saying, ‘Hi bubba’. I’m not sure what I expected in return but she responded with a penetrating stare. A stare that almost said, Hi Mama, I’ve known you my whole life and I’ve been waiting. That moment was the beginning of everything.
Less than twenty minutes later however, at approximately 2.45pm on 20 March 2012, my delivery suite was inundated with noise, people, people everywhere. There were no private moments, no quiet breastfeeding and skin to skin. Just noise. Noise and demands. Our moment was over.
Minutes after my stitches were finalised, my then Father in law burst into the room pushing his three year old granddaughter in a stroller. His wife followed. By this stage my mother who had been in attendance for the duration of the birth alongside my childhood best friend, was assisting me with latching. A moment almost immediately interrupted by my Mother In Law who began insisting on ‘physically’ repositioning my breast and baby herself over the top of my mother and my midwife.
Against what can at times be her fiery nature, my mother quietly persisted while I made gentle insistences that I was doing fine and didn’t need my MIL’s help. She persisted until I grew tired for having three sets of hands on my breast and baby, together with my own and demanded that everyone, including my poor mother, leave me alone!
My MIL moved across the room as my then Sister in law arrived and joined the ever growing crowd of people. At this point my mother and best friend departed ‘to give me space’. I didn’t realise at this point, that the mother actually ‘owns’ the room. I was 21 attempting to nurse my first baby whilst my estranged husband and his uninvited immediate family overtook the entire process that was meant to the first quiet moments spent with my baby.
After I had finished feeding, the midwife asked for Eva so that she could be weighed and measured. I moved to get out of bed and carry her over to the scales, excited to find out all of those special tiny details. Instead, my MIL removed her from my hands and carried her over herself. I was forced to stand by and take pictures of my child as though I were a tourist or perhaps as though I were an immediate family member, rather than the mother whom had just birthed this child.
I noticed my midwife cotton on to my distress although at no point were we afforded a moment alone to discuss the situation. When finished, she wrapped Eva and attempted to hand her back to me verbally expressing the importance of skin to skin contact with the mother and its importance with respect to the bonding process.
My mother in law physically intervened once again and Eva spent the next hour being passed around before her undeniable hunger cries granted us a reprieve. Finally, the family left. Then his friends arrived. I liked his friends, at the time they were my friends too I guess. Once again however, Eva was removed from me and passed around while I folded clothes and organised my overnight bag.
It was 9pm before I was left with an empty delivery suite, still seated in the bloodstained sheets of the bed I had delivered Eva on. In the 7 hours it had been since the birth, I hadn’t had a moment’s peace to take a shower. I remember complaining to my estranged husband, begging to be afforded some privacy to recover when I got home, knowing full well what I was in store for.
I was always forced to beg, before finally giving in and keeping my hurt to myself. My complaints were always greeted with, ‘you just had a baby, can’t you be happy and let everyone be excited’. ‘You’re ruining it for everyone’. I was always immediately guilt stricken after hearing this, although I still never fully departed from the notion that my excitement should have perhaps been paramount to everyone elses.
This is the problem with family violence and in particular when hospital staff in these situations are unaware, undertrained or unsure of how to navigate this type of mess. In my midwives defence, they did spring into action with bottles of hand sanitiser when the in laws had arrived smelling of fresh cigarettes. The had attempted to stem my MIL’s insistences at continually removing my baby from me as though my part in the process was now complete and the mothering experience of what she perceived to be ‘her son’s baby’ was hers for the taking.
Finally, after having been transferred to post natal at 9.30pm, he was sent home and Eva and I were left in peace. I wiped her down with baby wipes, desperate to remove the perfumed cigarette smell that smothered her long black hair and blankets. I fed her, changed her, replaced the blanket with clean clothes and rocked her to sleep. Just I had repeatedly done with my niece before her, it worked like clockwork. Until it didn’t.
No longer than five to ten minutes after I had placed her in the bassinet next to my bed, Eva would begin to cry. It was almost as though she could find no rest unless in my arms. I persisted until 4am, repeatedly offering her the boob, checking her nappy, religiously completing her tracking sheet that the midwives had provided. 4.30am, no joy.
I remember wandering into the hall with her, in search of a midwife. She slept soundly as I walked, not a care in the world. I could hear other babies screaming, mothers crying and midwives attempting to comfort both. I retreated to my bed for the third time figuring that that she wasn’t crying and nor was I and so perhaps I was overreacting, I was accused of that often, so perhaps we would just have to tough it out.
Just as I was about to place Eva back into her bassinet a grandmotherly midwife entered my room. I apologised for interrupting her and explained the trouble I was having. She asked me to demonstrate. Sure enough, moments after placing her down, Eva began to cry. The midwife laughed and told me to get into bed, reading the clear exhaustion written all over my face. She propped up the bedsides and guarded them with pillows. She laid Eva in my arms and told me to sleep.
‘But I’ll suffocate her’ I said. She said, ‘no you won’t, your body will not allow you too’. This baby of yours will be sleeping with you for a long time, she seems stressed, I can tell’. ‘Now get some sleep!’ We slept for three straight hours until my ex arrived to visit on his way to work. She is now 5 and still creeps in almost every night.
A few days after we had been discharged, my MIL let herself into my home unannounced ahead of my scheduled home visit with a midwife. She wreaked heavily of cigarettes and perfume. She left promptly after I explained that I needed to prepare Eva for the appointment. Unfortunately, the midwife arrived before I could bath her. Almost immediately the midwife accosted me for ‘smoking around the baby’. She explained the dangers and stated that the baby smelled so strongly of smoke that I must have been smoking with her on my lap. I said nothing.
I called my ex in tears and explained what had happened. He told me that midwives are just glorified nurses and did not know what they were talking about. As usual, I was disrespectful to have suggested that his mother might actually be at fault. The following week, when my daughter was just 13 days old, my estranged husband let himself into the house we had previously shared while I was sleeping. I found him heavily intoxicated, ‘dancing’ with Eva in the lounge room. I called his father after negotioating her out of his hands under the guise of needing to feed her, his father removed him from the house. I went to my mothers for the night, moved into her home the following month and initiated court proceedings soon after. Eva and I have now been free from family violence for almost 4 years, I hold sole custody and sole parental responsibility with no contact awarded to the father or paternal family.
Today, I am about to remarry and currently enjoying my 14th week of pregnancy with MCDA twins. There are no threats of violence, I have not endured any of the previous hospitalisations stemming from horrific physical assault that left me vomiting, disguised with a falls or suspected preeclampsia as I had in my first pregnancy. I feel sometimes an intense guilt at knowing that these blessed babies will not be born with early childhood trauma syndrome as my daughter was. They will not endure horrific night terrors, stress induced constipation, micro sleeping and cluster feeding.
They will keep me up all hours of the night, but they will be healthy, happy, stress free babies. I’d give anything to turn back time and afford that same beginning to my perfect little girl. Tears as I type…
From a midwifery perspective, whilst my clinical opinion stems from experience rather than education, I would urge practitioners to educate themselves on the signs of DV in expectant and post natal mothers. For many, violence first arises during pregnancy. The effects of Family violence, both physical and emotional are as lasting as they are debilitating. My daughter received diagnoses at three years old that her child psychologists believe stemmed from infancy.
Abuse is not always evident, I was always hit with an open hand or in the back of the head and there was never a mark to be seen. If a mother, mother in law or anyone else for that matter oversteps a new mum or overrides her in her decisions for her baby, then you as MUST intervene. You need to be the bad guy and demand that the mother receives her uninterrupted entitlement to those irreplaceable first moments with her child. Those moments don’t come around twice and new mothers are often too tired, inexperienced or frightened to stand up for themselves. They are often quietly undermined and put down.
My MIL’s favourite statement, particularly when trying to physically remove my breastfeeding daughter from my breast while ‘telling me’ that she had fed enough (was still feeding furiously), was. ‘Listen dear, I’ve had 5 children, this is your first. I know better than you’. That is very difficult to argue with when you have an entire family standing against you in defence of their mother.
So please advocate and if the family insists its none of your business, insist that it is. Take notes and put them on file, anything that bugs you, put it on file. A few years down the track when that mother does gain the courage to leave, she could see those notes substantiating her claims of control and abuse and it could just be her legal saving grace.
The mother might not say so then, but she will be very grateful to you later. I would say this for all new mothers, and not just those experiencing violence and controlling behavior.