Birth is one of the most, if not the most, profound experiences in a woman’s life. What happens during that experience including how the labouring woman is cared for and treated and how the birth unfolds, can play an enormous role in how she perceives her birth experience.
A birth is deemed successful and positive if the end result is a healthy mother and a healthy baby. In fact, when a woman is told that she will have to have a cesarean birth as opposed to the natural, vaginal birth she was hoping for, one of the first things that she will be told is, “The most important thing is a healthy baby and mother, right?”
Right. This is the most important outcome. We all want to come through childbirth intact holding a viable, thriving newborn in our arms. The problem with this all-encompassing statement, though, is that it can leave a woman feeling confused and ashamed for feeling sad, angry, depressed and anxious after a birth that did not go as planned. The message that needs to reach all women is that you can be joyful and grateful that your baby is healthy AND you can also, at the same time, feel frustrated, sad and disappointed about your birth experience. When we support women and acknowledge all of their feelings, we free them up to process these conflicting and often confusing emotions and eventually make peace with their birth experience.
Women will instinctively attempt to talk about their birth with their partners, family members, friends and care providers with hopes of being validated. Often times the responses they receive leave much to be desired. Aside from being interrupted throughout their attempts of telling their story, they may be told, “You should be happy you have a healthy baby” and “Why can’t you just get over it?” More often than not, the new mother will begin to feel guilty, ashamed and isolated and will repress those feelings. Feelings buried alive, never die and can turn into more serious problems like postpartum mood disorders. Mothers who have unresolved feelings about their birth can feel resentment towards their baby and even detached from their baby.
It also needs to be stated that a cesarean birth isn’t automatically disappointing while a natural, vaginal birth is automatically fulfilling and positive. It is very common for the trauma to occur at a birth because of how the woman was treated and because of what was said to her in this very vulnerable time. One woman was told that she should not feel the way she was feeling as she had had such a wonderful birth. Yes, on paper, her birth was one to be desired but she experienced trauma for other reasons. Psychologist Charles Figley explains, “An experience will be troubling to the extent that it is sudden, overwhelming or dangerous.” For example, if a woman even perceives that she or her baby is in danger (even if this isn’t the case), she can experience trauma to some degree.
The good news is that there are many things a woman can do to begin to make peace with her birth. Finding a qualified counsellor who specializes in birth trauma, attending a workshop for women who have had difficult births, writing out your birth story, discussing your labour records with your care provider and practising self-care are just a few ways to make peace with your birth. Most importantly, if you or someone you know is feeling sad or angry about your birth experience, know that there is help for you and that you are not alone.
Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth: www.pattch.org
Mother Nurture Childbirth Services: /workshops.htm
Cesarean and Traumatic Birth Support: www.victoriousbirth.com
Birth Trauma Info from Calgary, AB: birthtraumacanada.org
About Julie Keon
Julie Keon worked as a Certified Birth and Postpartum Doula (DONA International) for 13 years before retiring from doula work in 2011. Her primary focus these days is on providing quality childbirth preparation classes, assisting women who have experienced a traumatic birth through her one-of-a-kind “Making Peace With Your Birth” workshops and writing a bestselling book. Julie facilitates her workshop in Ottawa and in the Ottawa Valley. As well, she now offers private “Making Peace With Your Birth” sessions for those who are unable to attend the workshop or for those who wish to have further support after the workshop.
Contact Julie for more information or to register:
or or www.mncs.ca Space limited.
**sliding scale provided for those experiencing financial hardship**