C - Connect.
I’m not talking about reaching out to others for help. That’s another topic in itself. In regards to this post, Connect with yourself after birth. Really process what happened and move forward through any emotions you have surrounding the event. Trust me, you need to do this.
Don’t have any negative emotions surrounding the birth and everything went swimmingly?
Great! I’m genuinely happy for you. You can probably skip this blog post then.
But for you other mommas who have those feelings surrounding the birth, please take the time to process and heal. You’re not alone and birth trauma is actually quite common. In fact, up to 34% of women experience a birth they describe as traumatic (IMPROVINGBIRTH). Furthermore, when surveyed, 70% of women report confidence going into labor but only 55% felt confident while actually giving birth (Gosner). The birth is the beginning of the relationship with your baby but it is only that – the beginning. Please don’t pretend to be Supermom and just push through. As Kathleen Kendall-Tackett states in her article “Making Peace with your Birth Experience”, “it is difficult for anyone (even Super-mom) to be responsive and giving toward an infant or child when she is hurting inside.”
You may be thinking, “how can my birth be classified as traumatic? I’m healthy, baby is healthy, yet I still feel negative emotions toward the experience.” If your experience was “sudden, overwhelming, and [or] dangerous” you may have experienced birth trauma (Kendall-Tackett). Were you planning a pain-med-free homebirth but ended up with a transfer to a hospital due to long labor and not progressing? The sudden change can be classified as traumatic. Did you plan a repeat cesarean but ended up going into quick labor with very painful contractions a few days prior? The overwhelming sensation of unexpected circumstances can be classified as traumatic. Was the labor and delivery seemingly perfect but baby was rushed to the NICU a few hours later for medical reasons that put their life in danger? The dangerous aspect of not knowing whether or not your baby will live can be classified as traumatic.
All too often are we told by well-meaning family members and friends that a healthy mom and healthy baby are all that matters (IMPROVINGBIRTH). While, yes, we want everyone to be physically healthy, often times mom is not emotionally healthy after a birth and we need to acknowledge this. This phrase “at least you have a healthy baby” can feel isolating and dismissive of mom's feelings (IMPROVINGBIRTH).
So if you’ve been shaking your head and thinking “this is me!” thus far, you’re probably wondering what you can do about it.
First off, don’t blame yourself. Yes, you could have been more informed and advocated more for yourself and your baby. Yes, you could have asked more questions leading up to the birth and possibly have escaped the outcome you had. But that's in the past and you need to let it go. This is one of the most important things you can do that will lead to acceptance of your experience (Gosner). What is the best way to do this? Learn as much as you can. Ask your provider for your full medical records. Read them. Have someone interpret them for you. Understand why things went the way they went and if you have questions, ask them (Kendall-Tackett). Focus on where you showed strength during the process rather than on what went wrong (Gosner). Did you get through those 36 hours of contractions like a Boss but still ended up with an unwanted cesarean? Focus on your strength and determination to last 36 hours through contractions.
Once you’ve decided to not blame yourself any more, you need to finally forgive yourself (Kendall-Tackett). It may seem counter-intuitive to forgive yourself for something you just decided not to blame yourself for, but the conscious act of forgiving will be very helpful.
Lastly, be honest about your feelings. Stifling them will only make them resurface later and when they do it will be much more unexpected and exaggerated. You can do this by telling your story. Write it down describing every detail you can remember. Talk about your experience with someone who will actively listen, whether that is a partner, family member, or counselor. If you don’t feel supported by your partner, tell him or her and, if needed, seek help elsewhere. Only surround yourself with people who make you feel good and make sure to have responses prepared for less than supportive comments (Gosner). Most importantly, don’t isolate yourself (Gosner). Also, realize that your partner may have also been traumatized and may need his or her own time to process. Situations like this can cause problems between you two and you need to know when to seek help (Kendall-Tackett).
In the first month or two, emotions are high and focus may still be on the experience but could go away with time. However, if after the initial few months, the experience is still impacting you and your relationships, know that you probably need to talk with a professional (Gosner).
Moral of the story, you need to take time to heal emotionally after a birth. It’s just as important as healing physically. You can seek healing through support organizations, online forums, or even just simply writing about your experience. But please, don’t just brush these feelings aside and think they’ll go away. Because they won’t. The emotions surrounding your birth experience can impact your relationships and bonding with your baby and need to be addressed in a timely manner.
Not sure where to turn to? Use the Contact form to send me an email and I will make sure to get you in touch with the correct resource. You are not alone, Momma!
Gosner, Sarah. “When Childbirth Doesn’t Go as Planned.” Web. https://www.seleni.org/advice-support/2018/3/16/when-childbirth-doesnt-go-as-planned. Retrieved 18 Sept 2018.
Kendall-Tackett, Kathleen. “Making Peace with your Birth Experience.” Web. http://www.uppitysciencechick.com/making_peace.pdf. Retrieved 18 Sept 2018.
IMPROVINGBIRTH. “Trauma, Traumatic Birth, and Recovery.” https://improvingbirth.org/2014/07/trauma/. Web. Retrieved 18 Sept 2018.
Allesanda received her Bachelors in Behavioral Science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in December 2013. She now lives in North Texas with her husband and children. As a doula and educator of infant sleep and eco-friendly living, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.