Since adding birth doula work to my practice, I have learned a lot about the emotional and physical impact labour can have on a birthing parent. What really stands out to me are the emotional differences between parents whose birth was pretty close to what they expected and parents whose birth didn’t go as they had hoped. What I am finding is that the closer the events of the birth align to how parents expected the birth to go, the more likely they are to remember the birth as empowering. The challenge is that despite all the prenatal yoga and kegels we do while pregnant, birth is largely unpredictable. And when there is a large gap between the dream parents had for their birth and the way it unfolded, I often see parents plagued by feeling of guilt, anger, or disappointment.
What makes this even more tough is that far too often these feelings are dismissed with well meaning reminders that “at least everyone is healthy” or silenced by positive-birth-stories-only rhetoric. It can be challenging to find support in processing what happened. This is why the Birth Trauma Recovery: Healing Your Birth Story program was created.
With the right supports, parents can heal. There are lots of good reasons to get help after a difficult birth.
1 – The events of your birth need to be processed
Like other intense, transformational life experiences, what happens during birth needs to be processed. Almost all new parents make the re-telling of their birth events into a story. And, like all good stories, birth stories usually have sophisticated plots with heroes, villains, comedic relief, excitement, and suspense. Crafting your birth story and sharing it with friends and family is a normal part of the postpartum experience. This supports the emotional processing that we need to do to make sense such a significant life event.
Parents whose birth events were unexpected or surprising often recall their story through a lens of confusion, grief, or failure. Pulling apart your story and putting it back together can shift that negative lens to something more validating, such as strength or bravery, which can gently adjust the way parents emotionally respond to their birth story.
2 – Share your story with confidence
Parents can’t always help but be traumatically open after an upsetting birth, and when the topic of birth comes up it’s common for their story to spill out of them. With no bad intentions, this can create fear and anxiety for expectant parents (or those thinking of becoming parents). In response to this, some pregnant parents are starting to ask to hear positive birth experiences only. This can leave you feeling silenced or excluded from participating in the cultural ritual of sharing of birth stories with your community, and listening to birth stories where the events unfolded the way you hoped they would at your birth had can inspire jealously and leave you with a feeling that you have been robbed of something.
This tension can drive a wedge in friendships or family relationships or cause hurt feelings on both sides. Processing you birth story in a safe space with others experiencing similar emotions can evoke powerful feelings of resiliency and promote healing. Once you have made peace with your birth story, you can feel confident sharing your story in ways that you have you feeling included, while simultaneously not accidentally traumatizing pregnant friends.
3 – Manage flashbacks and triggers
It’s really common to experience flashbacks or have intense emotional triggers after a difficult birth. Seeing a birth photo online, driving by the hospital where you gave birth, or getting an invitation to a baby shower can leave you feeling sick with anxiety. Sometimes the flashbacks can be so intense that they play out like a movie in your mind and can distract you from being fully present during your postpartum experience or interfere with bonding with your baby. This can go on for days, weeks, months or even years and can also increase the changes of experiencing postpartum depression/anxiety.
While we can’t control thoughts or memories that pop into our heads, you don’t need to live in bondage to these flashbacks or triggers. It’s incredibly freeing to learn how to let the thoughts come and go, and then quickly return to the present.
4 – Feel safe birthing again
Often parents who have experienced traumatic births feel anxious at the thought of growing their family. Parents have told me that they would like to have more children but don’t think they could go through another birth and dread getting pregnant. It’s totally understandable to fear what could happen during your next birth – to fear pain, to fear invasive medical interventions, or to fear loss of control. Something parents try to manage this situation by trying to figure out where they went wrong with their previous birth (I promise you did nothing wrong!) in the hopes that they can influence the outcome of their next birth. In my experience, this is more likely to increase fear and anxiety, rather that alleviate it.
What’s more effective is to work on healing from your birth story by facing lingering fears directly and learning to integrate them. This means letting go of focusing on a particular birth outcome, such as no episiotomy or no surgical interventions, and tapping into your inner resiliency. Knowing that you can handle whatever comes your way during birth is the quickest path to feeling safe to birth again.
You can feel better.
You can move on.
We can help in just four sessions.
Join us this June by registering here
Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP