During these first weeks of motherhood, you are in the middle of an evolution. And…
As you know, December is a crazy busy month. For my family, in addition to the standard holiday mayhem we also have our wedding anniversary and both of our daughters birthdays. December is full of busy weekends, celebrations, and family time.
But for me, December also comes with complex and conflicting emotions. It is the month that I learned that doctors are NOT infallible, and that you are not always treated with respect and dignity while giving birth. It’s when I learned that once you become a mother, you cease to be important. That people lose all sense of boundaries once the baby is earthside.
It’s also the month I learned that giving birth is not always the best day of your life. Sometimes it’s also one of the worst.
If I’m totally honest, which I’m going to be, I went into my first birth full of excitement and hope and a lot of naivete. The hospital mistreated me right from the start by leaving me in the waiting room for almost an hour after arriving. They were in the middle of a shift change and I failed to register as a priority. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have turned and run at that point.
My hospital birthing classes stated that multiple methods of pain relief were available to choose from, but I was only offered an epidural, and then pressured into one. I was grabbed from behind and pulled down onto the bed by the anesthesiologist. A total stranger was set to deliver my baby. I requested an antacid multiple times to multiple hospital staff and was totally ignored. Instead I was laid flat on my back so that all the acid in my stomach came up and I got sick all over the floor.
One nurse, who must have thought she was running a boot camp, came into my room and yelled at me over and over while pushing. I wanted to tell her to get the f**** out of my room, but at that time I didn’t know I had that right. I hated every second of my experience. It all felt so out of control and exactly the opposite of the birth I wanted. I didn’t know these people and they didn’t know me.
After three hours of pushing, and a vacuum attempt, I finally consented to a c-section, which was just as scary and traumatic as I expected it to be.
I felt no warmth or compassion from the medical team. Afterwards, I didn’t feel warmth or compassion from family or friends either. Since I was physically okay and so was my baby, that was all that mattered. I had terrible postpartum anxiety, and no one understood that what I just had gone through had deeply affected me. I didn’t fully understand. I felt disappointed, upset, and my body held onto all of the trauma.
My second birth was full of passion, anger, and the need for vindication. During my pregnancy, I educated myself on the physiological process of birth. I learned different positions for laboring and pushing. My OB didn’t seem too supportive of a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), so I switched to a midwife. I advocated for myself and took charge of my pregnancy and was determined to have a more empowered birth experience.
What’s that they say? “You plan and God laughs”?
Despite all the changes I made in preparation for my second birth, I ended up at the same hospital where I had my c-section. This time, however, I succeeded in having the unmedicated VBAC I wanted with a posterior baby. I felt totally vindicated because part of the reason for my c-section was that my first daughter was also posterior.
It was a better experience, but not great. I still didn’t feel supported, and I went in prepared to fight. And I had to fight. I wish I didn’t have to fight. I left the hospital feeling empowered, but still disrespected and mistreated.
After the birth of both of my daughters, I had so many complicated feelings. I didn’t have a lot of close friends to talk it over with, and I didn’t think that anyone would understand. No one seemed interested in what I had just gone through; all anyone was interested in was holding my babies.
What I didn’t know at the time, was that this is extremely common.
It is estimated that 1 in 3 women experience birth trauma. I bet the real number is higher. And I’d also be willing to bet that almost all women come out of birth with conflicted and complicated feelings about their experience.
I still find myself angry at my doctors for not properly preparing me to give birth, and for resorting to a c-section instead of other methods to get my posterior baby out. I get angry at myself for not doing my own research, for not looking outside my doctor’s office for more information. It’s been four years since the birth of my first daughter, and I still get ridiculously jealous when I hear of “perfect” first-time births. I’d give anything for a do-over knowing what I know now.
But I cannot change the past. I can only learn, heal, and move forward.
I am still healing. And I want to share with you a few things that have helped along the way. I hope they can help you too.
- Therapy – I saw a therapist for about a month when my first daughter was seven months old. I had terrible anxiety and flagged pretty high for it on the postpartum depression screening at the pediatrician’s office. Between the high co-pay, and the one strategy she gave me to manage my anxiety, it didn’t last long. I felt I needed more. This therapist wasn’t the right match for me. Finding a therapist you connect with is always a great resource. Keep looking until you find one that you connect with and you feel helps you. And when finding a therapist feels overwhelming, read this article to make it easier.
- Journal- Journaling is a great tool to help process unresolved emotions. Writing freely without worrying about spelling or grammar, gives you the ability to get out all your feelings without putting restrictions on them. Journaling can help with filling in missing pieces, allow you to process strong emotions, and give you full privacy to say something that might be difficult to say out loud. Journaling can also act as a form of meditation, keeping you present as you write. To get started, try these 4 journal prompts to guide you.
- Tell Your Story- there’s something to be said for just getting it out, even if it isn’t pretty, even if pieces are missing. Telling someone what you went through and sharing your experience can help. If you feel you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable talking to, there are options! Mom groups, Support groups, even Facebook groups (some are great!) are spaces where women regularly share their birth stories: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your story may also help others who are going through something similar. Telling your story over and over is therapeutic in itself. To be honest, this is how I started my podcast. Here are three ways to get started in processing your birth story.
It’s normal to have mixed feelings after giving birth and being super vulnerable in front of strangers. You are going through one of the biggest life changes whether or not your birth day was the best day of your life. Know that no matter what your experience, you are not alone, and we are here support you in your healing process. <3
Pregnancy, Birth, and Baby
Heal Your Birth Story by Maureen Campion