By Clare Barnett - Nurse/Midwife/Counsellor/Perinatal Specialist
HOLDING ONTO HOPE WHEN THE DREAM FEELS LOST: USE THE CONTINUUM
Having the birth experience we never wanted can feel like being robbed of hopes, dreams and future possibilities. In these moments feelings can express themselves in a range of intensities. The gap between what I wanted and what I got can bite deep. Grief emotions sit in this gap: shock, disbelief, anger, blaming, yearning, sad (I put depressed here- not the same as clinical depression), feeling out of control, and physical changes.
There can also be harder to talk about emotions such as disgust, jealousy, hate, torment, despair, and angst. And OTHER emotions that may also give hope-but can feel more fleeting: moments of love, acceptance, trust, peace, comfort, calm, connection and care to name a few.
These ‘spaghetti emotions’- up and down and all over the place, can seem overwhelming and so very mixed. We can feel we have lost our pre-caesarian self in the changeability and intensity of them. One way to bridge the emotional gap between ‘what I wanted’ and ‘what I got’ is to use the psychological tool of a Continuum.
Picture two X’s on opposite sides of a page.
One X represents ALL GOOD things that could have happened in your birth. The other, the ALL BAD things. This is how the brain, especially when stressed, works. We reduce things to the binary of just two opposing options: all good OR all bad. So when something like a caesarian happens, because it wasn’t what I wanted (not ALL GOOD), we unconsciously can believe it must be therefore at the ALL BAD end. This can create ‘all bad’ thinking and feeling ‘stuck’ in this.
Now put a thick line between the two X’s- this is our Continuum, and put 1 /2 /3/ 4/ 5/ 6/ 7/ 8/ 9/ 10 marks on the continuum so it becomes a 1-10 rating scale. This one action alone helps SLOW DOWN the automatic default to the all bad, and creates room for psychological flexibility. It now gives more than just two opposite ways to look at what happened. Then do the following:
I had a Mum do this with me recently. She had a list that felt all bad. But when we put them on the Continuum, she surprised herself to find at many of her ‘bad’ actually were in the range of 3-6/10. She even found herself with moments in the 7+ range. Her relief brought tears. She hadn’t had to ‘pretend’ things were all good, but nor did she have to sit in the all bad. And she had graded events with honesty, self care and honouring of her story. It was powerful stuff.
So my hope is that by using the Continuum you can create space for a BOTH / AND perspective for your caesarian section story. To give permission to a range of emotions from which to view what happened, and to appreciate the whole story of good, bad and everything else in-between. To SLOW DOWN what can be an ALL intense negative space, or a draining ‘pretend there is a NOTHING wrong’ space.
How liberating, simple and effective. And the Continuum can also be used for other events which we may feel we have lost hope for, or feel emotionally stuck in.