We know that the birth experience of the infant, mother, father and whānau has an impact on mental health outcomes for all. In the documentary, Birth Time, three women explore what it would take for all women to emerge from their births physically well and emotionally safe.
As a child and adolescent psychotherapist, I am interested in what it would take for all infants, in fact all whānau, to emerge from their births physically well and emotionally safe. When I meet with families for the first time, I usually ask about the child's life story, including their birth story. These stories inform us about what has shaped the child's experience of the world.
In Birth Time, which is showing in New Zealand at the moment, we see a theme of mothers feeling emotionally well when they feel known, connected, protected and loved. The documentary advocates for all women and infants to have access to one midwife who can look after them through their pregnancy, birth and post-natal care. To whom they can tell their story and who can take care of their mind, spirit and cultural needs as well as their bodies. This is a vitally important part of maternity care and one which has positive predicators for mental health of the infant for their entire lifetime.
Parents and caregivers of older children appreciate that birth is not the full story. The birth experience becomes one of many experiences that shapes the child's emotional wellbeing. However we also know that traumatic birth experiences can impact infant mental health and beyond. The documentary reports that one third of mothers found their birth experiences traumatic, and that is much too high.