The Myth of A Natural Birth

canada-goose-216003_1280As I counsellor I do some voluntary work for a Birth Trauma Association. My job consists of giving email advice to new mums on how to deal with the consequences of traumatic birth experience, helping them to find a counsellor etc. More often than not I help mothers to start processing the birth experience itself– confirming that what happened was, indeed, quite traumatic and it is hardly surprising that a new mother is presently feeling low, anxious or depressed.
I am talking here of a physical trauma – something went wrong, there were complications, medical support was inadequate, baby or mother’s life was in danger and so on. What is surprising, though, that very often I get emails from mothers who have delivered healthy babies and are feeling physically ok, yet emotionally they are in a complete turmoil. I am not talking about post-natal depression, which may be caused by hormones, lack of sleep, complete change of lifestyle etc. These are the cases when emotional distress is caused by a wide gap between mother’s expectation of birth and an actual birth experience.
More often than not, these women had an idealized picture of birth – completely “natural”, almost pain free, no medication or drugs involved. Which is a fantastic idea in itself and it is great when birth goes as planned. Unfortunately, it is not often the case. Thousands of things can go and do go wrong and medical help is required. As a result, instead of feeling exhilarated and proud after giving birth to a healthy baby, new mothers feel like failures. This feeling of inadequacy and failure can sometimes develop into depression.
In their antenatal groups expectant mothers are commonly given a picture of a “natural” birth as an only “right” option, making it sound easy and achievable for everyone. Birth is, indeed, a natural process, but it is also quite natural for it to go wrong. Many women through the history have died in the process and it is still happening in many countries today. Advocating the “natural” birth as an only option should always include mentioning the risks associated with it. Expectant mothers should be offered different options and the choice should be theirs, depending on the circumstances, health risks etc. Rather than bullying women into one “right” way of giving birth, antenatal groups should be explaining pluses and minuses of various options and providing women with information. What works for one mother could be completely wrong for another and there is no need to make a failure from what should be a celebration.
Having met plenty of women who have opted for a natural birth, I have yet to meet a person who has asked to see a “natural dentist


gymnastics-1951237_1280Have you tried and failed to loose weight? You started on a popular new diet, cutting out all the things you enjoy eating, lost a few kilos, then, after a stressful day at work, came home and had a pack of biscuits at once. Diet failed, you felt even more miserable and desperate than when you started.
After several similarly unsuccessful attempts you just gave up, hating yourself for the lack of will power.

Try to look at it differently.
Losing weight is not about dieting, depriving yourself of your favorite foods and feeling miserable. It is also not about trying to become someone else – a thin model in a magazine or a celebrity. To really loose weight you have to engage in a slow process of becoming yourself – learning to take care of your needs and listen to your body, starting to like yourself a bit more. As a counsellor, I would agree with the view of Ayurvedic medicine, which states that obesity is often an external manifestation of our emotional problems.
I would not even call this process “loosing weight”. It implies loss and has a negative connotation. I would rather say “getting into shape”, finding your natural weight and staying that way.

So where do we start?
For a start, I would advise to do what in psychotherapy is called “a reality check”. This means looking at your fantasies, anxieties and assumptions and seeing “what is really happening”. For instance – how do you see yourself? If you see yourself as fat, then how do you know that it is true? Is your judgment based on the facts – like your dress size or your BMI? Or is it part of your negative self-image, that is part of the bigger problem called low self-esteem? In that case, it would be advisable to work through your issues in counselling and then reassess the situation. Or maybe you are told you are overweight by your friends, family, partner? Was it always your role in the family – to be a “fat one”? Reality check will help you see things as they are, not as you imagine them to be.

But what if after careful consideration you have established that you are, indeed, overweight, and would benefit from losing a few pounds?
Then we will need to explore what is it that you are trying to lose?
What your extra weight is for you? On the surface, we might hate being fat and would love to loose weight as soon as possible. But quite often there is a hidden reason why we are staying fat. Unless we discover what it is that is holding us back, all our attempts at dieting will fail.
An example could be my client from Aylesbury, Sarah*, who tried many diets and always ended up putting on more weight that she had lost. When I suggested to Sarah that she imagines herself being thin, she got very anxious and was unable to focus. Exploring the roots of this anxiety, we discovered that, for Sarah, her weight was some kind of protection. Without it, she imagined herself being vulnerable in the hostile world. Working with this vulnerability and restoring my client’s self esteem allowed Sarah to psychologically let go of her extra pounds and she started losing weight slowly but permanently.

Another client, Helen* from Oxford, used her body shape as an excuse for not making changes in her life. She was putting up with a dead end job “because no one is going to hire somebody so fat”. She also avoided thinking about her abusive relationship, “because if she will leave no one else will want her”. Through therapy, Helen’s feeling of self-worth increased dramatically and she subsequently felt able to make necessary changes in her career and relationships. When she stopped using her extra pounds as an excuse for her passivity, she no longer needed them and lost weight naturally.

After you find out what being overweight means for you and achieve clarity, you can then start building a new relationship with food. Your first step will be to find out how is this relationship working at the moment.

*all names have been changed

Weight Management after Christmas 2

WMC:seaWeight Management after Christmas

Question no 2:
In what ways will your life change when you will achieve your target weight?

After establishing your goals and writing them down, it would be useful now to do the following exercise:
Imagine yourself being the weight and size you want to be. How do you look? What are you wearing? How do you relate to people and how do people relate to you? As you are imagining that, what feelings do you experience?
I found, to my great surprise, that very often my clients experienced fear. If you have been overweight for a while, your extra weight could have become your “protective shell”. Loosing it might bring a sense of being exposed.
You might be worried that your friends will treat you differently or that you will attract more attention of the opposite sex. Really let these fears come up and explore them. Unless you know what you are scared off, you are bound to “fail” in any dieting attempts. On the other hand, when you can comfortably imagine yourself being thin and living your life as a thin person, actually loosing these extra kilos will be easy.

Following on from that topic, next time we will discuss what your extra weight might mean for you on an emotional level

How authentic is your anger?


So you think you are an angry person, but are you really? Try this exercise:

Imagine that tomorrow is the beginning of a holiday period and all the shops are going to be shut for several days.
You have no food left in a house and have just enough time to run to the supermarket and stock up before the shop closes.
You quickly fill up your trolley and go to the tills. There are just a few minutes left before the closing time.
You get to the checkout desk, the person at the till enters your purchases on the cash-till and tells you the total cost.
You reach for your wallet and can’t find it. You search and search and it is not there. You remember now that you left it at home.
As the line is building up behind you, you ask the shop assistant if it would be ok to leave your name and address, take your shopping and bring money after the holidays. The shop assistant replies that it is not possible.
So you can’t take your goods home and there will be several days before the shops will re-open.
As you realize this – How do you feel?

If you will do this exercise in a group, you will notice that different people will report different feelings.
The feeling that you will report is the one you are experiencing quite often in all sorts of situations.
This feeling will also be the one that was “allowed” or encouraged in your family of origin.
The emotion you felt did nothing to help you find a solution to your problem.

These characteristics are typical of what Transactional Analysis calls The Racket Feeling.

The racket feeling is usually a substitute for an authentic feeling. For example, you might get angry when you are really sad. Feelings substitution is happening out of awareness, so you might not even notice what you are really experiencing.

So next time you get angry, you might try to stop and think for a moment – what are you really feeling? Could you find ways of expressing that real feeling (fear, sadness etc.) instead of getting angry? Becoming aware of your real feelings and finding ways of getting your needs met will help you manage your anger and use it in constructive rather than destructive ways.