When You Experience a Traumatic Birth
When you think about becoming a mother, first thought on everyone’s mind is labor and delivery. It’s a scary unknown but one thing is certain, there will be pain. Many mothers nowadays like to come up with a “birth plan” that they bring into their delivery room and show their OB. Some are short and sweet and others are as elaborate as a Dostoevsky novel. Mothers hold different views on epidurals, pitocin and C-sections and often get disappointed when their birth does not go the way they planned.
The truth is, it never does. It’s just that sometimes we get lucky and the way it happens is close enough to what we imagined. Other times, we’re not so lucky and get left processing an event that likely traumatized us. Couple that with a pervasive societal view that as long as baby is healthy nothing else matters and the mother is left alone with her negative feelings about the birth process. And then we wonder: why the “baby blues”? In more severe cases mothers can develop postpartum PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that is similar to what veterans experience and that PTSD can overlap with PPD (Postpartum Depression).
A Few Statistics
We have made strides in talking more openly and learning how to diagnose PPD but postpartum PTSD is rarely mentioned or talked about. It is however estimated that around 1-3% of mothers suffer from postpartum PTSD and around 25% have at least one symptom of it. Many more suffer from PPD, an estimate of 1 in 7 women (around 14%). As you can see, many mothers suffer mentally after the birth of their baby and a lot of them suffer in silence for the fear of being judged and having their feelings minimized.
You don’t have to look far to see this openly hostile judgment. Just visit any mommy blog where the blogger recounts her traumatic birth experience and then look at the comments. The amount of other moms that will descend on her and troll her for not having a traumatic enough birth is astounding. Or join a Facebook mommy group and post a comment looking for support. You will get so many trolls, it will send you running for the hills even if you’re not psychologically suffering.
This is a message to all those who have dismissed and continue to dismiss the feelings of other mothers, “STOP!!!!”. You are not doing anyone any favors by putting them down and telling them there is nothing traumatic about their experience. Believe me, they are already conflicted in their feelings. But they are suffering silently every time they have a flashback of their birth or encounter a trigger that makes them relive their trauma. They need support, not random people dismissing their feelings as invalid.
My Birth Story
I felt that my birth was traumatic. It may not have been in someone else’s eyes but it was in mine. I prepared for an all natural birth at a birth center. I wanted the least interventions possible and wanted it to be a peaceful experience. Frankly, I wanted to be left alone. That’s how I function best.
Unfortunately, after 12 hours at the birth center and my labor not progressing, we had to go to the hospital to help my labor along. After not sleeping for over 24 hours and not eating, I couldn’t handle the transition. I bawled all the way to the hospital room. Eventually, when we made it to the hospital, I made some peace with it. Except, I was immediately hit with an ultrasound that revealed that my son turned breech. I knew exactly what that meant: automatic C-Section. I broke. My worst fear realized.
I didn’t understand for a while, why a C-Section was so traumatizing for me. It wasn’t emergency. My son wasn’t in any distress. I was physically fine. It was just that no one would deliver a breech baby any other way. I didn’t have any notions about a C-Section being inferior to a vaginal birth. I was just scared.
The C-Section itself was not a great experience. I had a very rude anesthesiologist with a team to match him. I responded poorly to the anesthesia (had to be strapped to the operating table because I couldn’t stop shaking) and couldn’t hold my son right away because I was strapped. Recovery was alright, everything considered, but I had great difficulty staying lucid while taking pain killers. I hated being in the hospital. Later on, I had trouble bonding with my son. It took closer to 4 months for me to feel something other than obligation to feed and care for him.
I ruminated for months on my experience before I started to feel better about it. And you know what helped? Talking about it, a lot. I talked to my husband, my mother, my friends. Not all of them were helpful and some dismissed my feelings, which hurt. But the more times I told my story, the easier it got.
It took about 20 months past my son’s birth to be able to talk about all the things that traumatized me and not re-experience the trauma. I can now simply talk about my experience without too many negative emotions rising up. I figured out what part was the most traumatic for me, worked through it and finally let go. Again, this may not seem traumatic to some but I never had major surgery before and that’s what traumatized me the most. It was the suddenness and complete loss of control. All of these played into my fears and made the situation traumatic.
What Can Help
So if you are suffering after a traumatic birth, please, don’t suffer in silence. I understand it may be hard to open up based on your environment but find a trusted friend who will listen and help you process your feelings. If you feel like you are experiencing PPD or postpartum PTSD, please, find a licensed counselor in your area and work with them. This will help get your search started.
Aside from talking about the experience, write about it. You can write in a journal every time you have a flashback or you can just get a notebook and write your birth story. If you are not much of a writer but can draw well, then draw your story. Use any medium that works best for you to get your story out there. The more you process your story, the easier it will get overtime. The pain may never completely go away but it will lessen over time. And no matter what happens, know this momma, “You are strong, amazing and capable! Your experiences are valid, meaningful and 100% YOURS!”
Quote of the Day
“The effort to separate the physical experience of childbirth from the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of this event has served to disempower and violate women.” ~Mary Rucklos Hampton
Mental Health Tip of the Day
Experiencing birth trauma may leave you feeling isolated and depressed. You may feel like you should be grateful for having a healthy baby and that you have somehow failed if you don’t experience this joy. Don’t let this societal message bring you down. Write down your negative feelings on a piece of paper and then burn it. Watch how the fire disintegrates the words and let your negative feelings disintegrate along with them. Do this as often as you need to.