Three Strategies for Processing Birth Trauma
Birth trauma is real. In a world where we talk about the beauty and transformation of birth and motherhood, it seems cruel and unfair that birth trauma can sweep in and make birth seem anything but beautiful and full of joy. So why write this here, in a space where I most often talk about the magic of birth. Because, it's real and women who experience it, myself included, need space to feel recognized and to heal.
My first birth story was mostly full of magic and words like intensity, beauty, anticipation, and light. Overall, my birth was incredible. I labored at home followed by laboring in a tub at the hospital and, on a bright evening in June, my baby girl was born. (That just may be the shortest telling of my birth story ever!) When I initially sat down to write my birth story, my story ended with my baby girl being put on my chest and the nurse saying "this one has personality!" as my daughter wailed with healthy lungs. In my early postpartum days I just didn't have it in me to write about the trauma I experienced 30 minutes after my daughter was born. It wasn't until I re-visited my birth story months, and again several years later, that I was able to fully process and write that final part of my birth story.
Let's Touch on Birth Trauma
I'm not here to define or put parameters around birth trauma. There is no shortage of birth trauma definitions and each mama's experience is her own to define. What I want to address here are three strategies that can be helpful for processing a traumatic birth experience.
Talk to a Professional
I talked with my midwife and doula extensively about my birth trauma. I talked and talked and talked and they listened. I felt heard. Comforted. I was able to name the experience aloud and received the professional support I needed to begin my emotional healing. Your pregnancy and postpartum care team can be your starting point and, if necessary, they can refer you to a therapist. Your partner or labor support person may also wish to talk to a professional. My birth trauma had a profound impact on my husband. Processing the birth trauma together helped us heal together.
Let the Emotions Flow
While not the outcome anyone wishes for, it's okay to have negative emotions about your birth experience. In a birth world where much emphasis is put on the beauty and strength and miracle of birth, we may be hesitant to give ourselves permission to express how we really feel about our birth experience. Let those emotions out. Cry. Be angry. Be sad. Be whatever you need to be to work through the experience. I was scared. I was scared that being away from my new baby daughter in the immediate hours following her birth would have her feel less attached. I was scared I'd experience the same thing with subsequent births. And postpartum hormones were flying. I had to let emotions flow through me.
One way to let the emotions flow and to heal is putting pen to paper. I know first hand the power of journaling, which was an impetus for The Birth Journal, but science speaks to it as well. Evidence abounds, both scientific and anecdotal. My greatest tip for journaling, regardless of your birth experience, is to write uncensored and for as long as you can without stopping. The words will pour from your being. Your true, unrestrained story will come through and healing comes with that powerful process.
For anyone who has experienced birth trauma, I'm sorry and I'm wishing for you all that you need to work through it and heal.
As always, friends, these are my thoughts and perspective and do not serve as medical advice. Always consult trusted professionals in your life as you walk through pregnancy, delivery, postpartum, and new mama life.