Childbirth is often a pivotal time in a woman’s development as a mother and person. For some, recalling their birth stories can be incredibly empowering. For others, the trauma of unresolved disappointment can leave deep emotional wounds that may never completely heal.
I love to tell my birth stories, as many moms do. Even before I had overcome the hardest parts of my birth stories, I found it cathartic to share my birth stories out loud. I just had to be careful to whom I went into much detail about some of my childbirth experiences, as pregnant moms certainly do not want to hear birth horror stories — and shouldn’t have to hear them.
The problem is, many of us moms don’t feel compelled to rehash our birth experiences until we’re triggered by the sight of a pregnant woman.
Childbirth doesn’t have to go smoothly for us to consider our birth experience positively. And even birth experiences that seem positive to us can still be traumatizing to the mother who experienced it. The crux of whether a birth experience is more likely to be considered traumatizing has to do more with our individual expectations going into childbirth, as well as what strong emotions are left unresolved afterward.
My oldest baby was born 10 weeks early due to a placental abruption. Now, that’s a very serious birth complication. Yet, my birth experience with her was not nearly as traumatizing as my cesarean with her younger sister. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my third son’s VBAC was by far the best birth story I have. And of all my birth stories, even my fourth baby’s second-trimester miscarriage wasn’t as traumatizing as that second birth’s cesarean.
Now, why is that?
Well, I had the expectation that I would not have to have a cesarean at all. And then when it became apparent that I couldn’t avoid it, I had expectations that the nursing staff and doctors would act more sensitively toward the situation than I perceived they did. Finally, perhaps the most lasting trauma of all revolved my expectation of how my husband would respond to these unmet expectations and my disappointment when he didn’t respond the way I had hoped.
It took me a long time to work through the disappointment, anger, and grief of this cesarean birth.
My unresolved emotions perhaps triggered my postpartum depression. I ended up working through everything in counseling. Among the techniques used was telling my birth story over and over — out loud to other people, out loud to myself, in writing, through art, however I could find ways to get it out of my head.
Related: How I Healed From My Traumatic Birth
The point of healing through telling your birth story is being able to make sense of what happened to you, putting a name to the emotions you felt and feel today, and identifying your unmet expectations. The reason you have to tell your story over and over and over is because each retelling helps you dig deeper into the story and your emotions.
At first, as my counselor pointed out, you’ll be guarded in how you tell your story. You may spend time blaming different people in your story, or get stuck at one spot in the story and find you can’t move past it. But the more you retell your story, the more open you will be to explore the situation more fully, to consider what other people in the story might have felt, and even to forgive them and yourself.
Considering a birth experience to be traumatizing doesn’t mean you love your baby any less. The experience is completely separate from the outcome. But you may find it difficult to retell your birth story as your baby grows — this child who has brought such joy to your life, but whose birth brought such pain. It can be so hard to work through trauma, but it’s worth it — not just for yourself, but for your child… to be able to resolve the difference in emotions you feel between your child and her childbirth.
Like me, you may not ever really love your birth story but you can get to the point where you appreciate it because it gave you this baby. This, I wish for you.
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