By the time my second son was six months old, I’d penned his birth story and shared it, along with gorgeous professional birth pictures. It was an amazing, empowering birth and easy to talk about.
Writing my first son’s birth story was much harder. I dreaded birth-related conversations. If I opened up with anyone, I lived in fear of hearing, “That was your traumatic birth? That was nothing,” or, “If you would’ve just gone along with X like everyone else does, you wouldn’t have been so upset”. Yet keeping my story in wasn’t helping either. As the months ticked by and thoughts about the birth were still keeping me awake in the night, I knew it was time to do something.
One of my doulas recommended Solace for Mothers and I joined the pilot session of a birth trauma support group called Mothers Healing Together (MHT). Through the help of MHT, I was able to do the hard work of healing.
So, what’s the deal with birth trauma anyway? Some people say ‘healthy baby, healthy mama’ is enough when it comes to a birth. For me — logical to others or not — that is not enough. Yes, the “destination” is imperative, but the journey matters, too. It is possible to both celebrate an amazing new life and mourn the journey it took to get there at the same time.
For example, if you completed a marathon, but got injured on the way, no one would say, “All that matters is that you crossed the finish line”. No, people would care about your twisted ankle; they’d want to hear your story, they’d admire your endurance. They would know that the medal is great, but the journey also matters.
Or think about college. Let’s say a professor unjustly accuses you of cheating. You have to fight to defend your character; you have to prove you really know the facts you allege to know; you are judged with a suspicious eye. Eventually, you still walk away with a degree and go on to a great career. Now, is that all that matters about that college experience the diploma you walk away with? Of course not. The story of those years matters. It shapes you. It changes you. The degree is there forever, and is something to celebrate, but the journey to it matters.
With my first son, I walked away as a relatively healthy mama with a healthy baby and a vaginal birth, but for all of those wonderful things to celebrate, the rest of the journey still mattered. I had panic attacks for months after. I would wake in the night with thoughts racing. My obstetrician confirmed I didn’t have postpartum depression, but he didn’t quite know what to do with my anger, pain, and questions.
Thankfully, I kept pushing for answers outside of his office. Over the internet and then through friends, I learned that there is a thing called Postpartum Traumatic Stress Disorder (PPTSD), and it fit me to a T. For some, professional help is the wisest choice to move forward. For me, a support group was the right fit to propel my healing journey. Through that group, here are six things that I found most helpful:
1. Tell your story
Tell it however you see it right now— to someone safe to you. Write it, paint it, speak it, whatever works.
2. Obtain your medical records
Gather them from your provider as well as from the facility. Hospital records contain notes from nurses and stats, things that may not be in your provider’s records. Now, just because you have these papers doesn’t mean you have to read them. But, it is a step. Consider finding a friend in the medical world to help you process through medical jargon.
3. Embrace that your story will change
As you learn more about yourself, others, medical details, etc. it is normal for your perspective to change. Let go of past perceptions and make room for the wiser outlook you have now. Wiser may not mean less painful, but sometimes it can give the struggle meaning.
4. Say what you need to say
It is never too late to articulate what would help a provider meet other women’s needs better. It is never too late to thank someone who got it right. Do what your instincts tell you: send a letter, log a complaint, make a phone call.
5. Write a birth story for your child at his current age
Putting things in simpler, kid-friendly words and concepts can be freeing.
6. Contact a professional for help if needed
Your time and emotional energy are precious, so screen providers ahead of time by asking if they are familiar with birth trauma.
Article in this complete format was published in The Wise Mom, member magazine for the Holistic Moms Network, Spring 2014 under the title Processing Birth Trauma. Republished with permission. Elements were originally published on MoreGreenforLessGreen.com.
Image credit: Mamma Loves