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How to heal from a Traumatic Birth

April 2, 2019

My birth with my second child, Elin, was a positive VBAC birth story that was – pretty much – exactly the birth I’d dreamt of. Postpartum, my body recovered so much better, not only pysically, but also mentally. My mindset was so much lighter which in hindsight was a miracle as I didn’t need any added pressure to starting life with “two under two”.

I always put this down to the fact that I was a second time Mum. I knew what to expect and how to heal right? That must be why I bounced back from birth so much quicker? But actually after listening to this podcast, where it discusses how traumatic births can set mothers up to fail in the early days of Motherhood I realise perhaps not?

Birth is a major life experience. A traumatic birth experience can set you up for Motherhood on an uneven playing field. Positive birth experiences have been linked to better sleep cycles, feeling more rested and bonding and connecting with your baby. When women miss out on these experiences (which sadly, more than many women seem to be) they go into Motherhood in a state of survival mode (more so than usual) they don’t have time to heal and process what happened to them as they are so busy caring for a newborn baby and there is an immense pressure from society for you to be happy. This is the happiest time of your life afterall, right?

Many will think “this is normal”, this must just be how every new Mum feels, and they wont connect the dots between their traumatic birth experience. They may just think “I’m not coping as well as the other new mums I see.”

Processing a traumatic birth and learning to heal can have a huge impact on your overall wellbeing. It can stop unwelcome bouts of mum guilt, ease feelings of anxiety, heal relationships and help you to bond with your baby.

Don’t sweep it away with “time heals everything”: I think this one is super important. It’s very easy to think, I’ll just forget about it and it will be okay as time heals everything because with birth trauma it can actually be quite the opposite. Unprocessed feelings with any trauma can be triggered at any time but with birth, its more likely to be triggered when meeting new people and the inevitable labour and delivery chat comes up or at babies first birthday when you reflect on the “this time last year my waters broke/we were on our way to the hospital/we were a few hours away from meeting you” saga, and of course the main trigger is a new pregnancy and the inevitable realisation that a new birth is pending. It’s really common for a traumatic birth to trigger PTSD and that won’t always go away with time so if you feel like there is some true healing work to do there then you should absolutely carve out some time to do so.

Your feelings are justified: With birth, its very easy for people to get caught up in this mentality of “well you had a rough time but you got something great out of it so that should instantly counteract it” – but you can’t help how your brain processes things and the emotions that are associated with that. It’s easy to get into a mentality of “worse things happen” and yadda yadda. Yes, worse things do happen. But that isn’t relevant to this. You went through something and you found it traumatic. That is totally okay. You dont have too belittle your feelings.

You don’t have to feel grateful: The feelings towards your birth are SEPARATE to the outcome. I repeat. The feelings towards your birth are SEPARATE to the outcome. The fact that your baby is happy and healthy is separate to the fact that your journey to meeting your baby may have been one of the worst experiences of your life. I GET IT OKAY. I’ve heard midwives and doctors get annoyed when people are upset by their c-sections or assisted deliveries because obviously without those amazing procedures, I wouldnt be alive and neither would my babies. However, it took a LONG time for me to be in wonder of those procesdures. Sure I am grateful to be alive and I am SO GRATEFUL that my babies are alive. Of course. But I am not grateful that I had to go through that experience or the feelings and notions that followed.

Your definition of a bad birth is still important: Rory’s birth (my traumatic one) vs Elin’s birth (my positive one) should have been the other way around. Rory’s birth was calm, I had an epidural which led to a caesarian. Elin’s birth was a VBAC where I left it too late to go to the hospital, showed up just in the nick of time howling like a wilder beast and she was a drug free episiotomy with a forceps delivery. Rorys birth was clean and calm. Elins birth was messy and panicked. So on paper it should have been the other way around, however, I so desperately coveted a vaginal delivery so, for me, achieving that no matter what was a miracle. But I know many mums that had a traumatic vaginal birth and a lovely, elective ceasarian. Your ideas of what defines a “bad birth” is unique to you and its totally okay.

Don’t feel guilty: Its super hard to process the idea of feeling bad about the day your baby was born but that’s okay. As above. Your thoughts of your birth do not reflect your feelings of your baby. It’s hard to consider a traumatic experience as “the best day of your life” but its important to reframe things. For me, was my cesarian the best day of my life? No. Was the outcome and meeting my first born baby? Absolutely. Again though, it’s easy to get caught up in this pressure to love “that day” when actually birth, no matter how your experience was, is still an ordeal and quite traumatic. You don’t have to love giving birth to love your baby and you don’t have to feel guilty for not loving the experience. Spoiler alert. I didn’t LOVE my wedding day either, but I’m still glad I’m married. There can be too much hype to love these moments and you don’t have to feel guilty if they aren’t the best days of your life.

Talk it through: Talking is the ultimate therapy. For me it saved me. When I had my cesarian with Rory I felt as though I must be the only person in the world to be so ‘dramatic’ about birth and then when I started to verbalise things and others said they had felt the same I felt this huge weight lifted off my shoulders. There was nothing wrong with me! What I felt was normal! After having my c-section and feeling the way I did and feeling so poorly, no medical professional said anything about birth trauma or coping or how its a major deal so I always felt like I personally just wasn’t coping very well and that everyone else must do a lot better so to find that wasn’t the case just made me feel so much more normal. There are so many support groups that can be found online or on Facebook.

Knowledge is power: Okay, so the two catalysts for me that really helped me to get my head around my birth with Rory and that was getting a copy of my birth notes and also, when doing my prep for my second birth, it was gaining an understanding of the body during labour. Both of which helped me process what happened, the catalysts that could have led me to having my c-section and what I can do to avoid that happening in the future. It helped me get an idea of the elements that were in my control and the elements that werent. Reviewing my birth notes and being allowed to ask questions about things offered me huge amounts of closure and took the weight off my shoulders.

Click here to read more about my c-section experience.

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