January 13

By Clare Barnett - Nurse/Midwife/Counsellor/Perinatal Specialist
It’s not until you have experienced it that you realise how hard it can be to reply to ‘well-meaning’ people who say the most stupid (read: unthinking, hurtful or plain old ignorant), comments about your caesarian birth. 
"Ohhh that must have been nice not feeling any pain"
"Ohh you had a c-section"
"Why did YOU have a c-section?"
"Gosh I'd hate to have had that"
"How nice to schedule when you baby arrives - so practical"
"You have a healthy baby, you should be happy"
It’s a difficult place to be in as they usually have that nice smile, that kind look on their face or tone of voice that sounds something like ‘poor you’, ‘it must be hard for you’ or ‘gosh I’d hate to have had that”. 
Difficult because of the mixed message- what they say (which feels not OK), and how they say it (sincere, well meaning and usually trying to be kind).

So what part of the mixed communication do we want to notice and comment on? Here are a few thoughts: 

Firstly, just GO WITH and ACCEPT that we are likely to be unconsciously reactive to such comments because, quite frankly, they are often so shocking that we can only react in a fight, flight, freeze or appease way. For instance:

- the Fight reaction- where “WTF’ is out of our mouth before we know it. Oh horror- and exit quickly, or maybe we find it very satisfying and stand our ground with a “how dare she?” attitude (yes, I think most of the unthinking/stupid comments come from other women), and probably try to avoid her from then on. 

-the startled look and get out of there quick Flight reaction- find the bathroom, find a distracting action to do, just anything that allows us not to hear the cruel or stupid thing they said…
- the ‘stunned mullet’ Freeze reaction of a blank stare, a mumbled something and just hoping the moment would all go away. Often this reflex kicks in because, deep down, we know we need  this person to help me, we need their support…. so we try to suck it up and move on… 
-the startled look and get out of there quick Flight reaction- finding the bathroom, finding a distracting action to do, just anything that allows us not to hear the cruel or stupid thing they said…
- the Appease reaction- it’s very close to the freeze one, but where we find ourselves agreeing and being ‘nice’ on the outside- we have a nice smile, a nice tone of voice, and even a nice ‘thank-you’. Yet inside we’re stewing and frustrated, wishing we could have said something else- which often leads to some form of self criticism. Watch the self judgment of this one, as it could lead us to believe we are the problem, when in reality we are simply having an unconscious automatic reaction to really stupid and hurtful words others have said.
Secondly, Breathe! A slow, deep belly breath, or two, helps us activate a ‘pause button’ on the automatic fight, flight, freeze and appease reactive responses. Deep in from your belly -  pause - slow out. Repeat frequently. Practice daily, only when not triggered, so our mindful breath is available in these difficult moments. Check out the Calm or 3 minute mindfulness apps or Dr Google for more information on mindful breathing. Remember, we take our breath with us everywhere, and it’s free!
Thirdly, be prepared! and practice a few push-back one liners. Once your breathing has slowed down the shock of the mixed message/ stupid comment, strategic push-backs can come to mind to help you hold your ground in ways that honour your values 
These need to be short- no more than one sentence, with the best being just a few words (if they are longer, your are likely to be justifying something, which often doesn’t go well). They are designed to show the person that you didn’t appreciate/don’t agree with what they said, but in a pleasant way. They can also be used to re-direct the conversation to what you do want. 
Some examples of push-backs could be:
-Gosh, I didn’t expect that reply. 
-Ouch!
-I hope that was a compliment.
-Ahhh, I don’t think you understand the situation.
-Just so you know, that wasn’t helpful.
-Hmm, I was hoping for a kind word.
-What would be helpful for me right now would be…(short request for what you want).
-I hear you kindness, but your words sound a bit unkind- which do you want me to go with?
-Could you say that in a different way?
“Yeah, as if I had a choice in the matter”, was the pushback I used when the stupid comment of “Clare I didn’t think you would have a caesarian” (‘especially as you are a water-birth midwife’ was the subtext to this), was made to me by a kind but unhelpful midwife on day one after my caesarian.
So, accept the reactive and happy practicing of slowing down to breathe and push-back. 
Ngaa mihi nui,
Clare
Clare Barnett

About the author


Naomi approached Clare Barnett because of her unique set of skills. Clare is an experienced nurse, midwife, counsellor, wife and mum of two grown boys both via emergency c-section. She has a masters level qualification, specialised in perinatal (around pregnancy, birth and postnatal) distress and trauma.

Her approach is both grounded in what is real and practical, alongside genuine compassion for lived life experiences- the good, bad and the ugly. Warm, approachable, generous and able to put the complex into simple. Something we all need. Her wisdom and care will be heard through the words of her blogs.

Check out her website: www.mindcare.nz
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