By Ingrid Clark
“Birth is natural...”
“Thousands of women have done it before you…”
“That happened to me, and I got over it...”
“Everyone’s got a story...”
Perhaps it’s that last comment, meant in a throwaway “your story is nothing special” kind of way that really makes me feel sad. Yes, everyone does have a story. And every story is important.
Unfortunately, whether your birth experience was good, bad or downright harrowing, sometimes you’re made to feel like you should just ‘move on’; as if the only outcomes that matter are that mum and baby are alive. Let me tell you, as a postpartum doula, I’ve heard many a birth story from a mother who is ‘alive’ in the sense that she’s breathing, but her heart and soul have been crushed by an experience she never could have imagined.
Sometimes it’s the result of a genuine and rare medical situation and it’s only by the grace of God and modern medicine that she’s alive to tell that story. Other times, tragically, it’s the result of a jaded midwife or overworked obstetrician who’s said or done something, no doubt inadvertently, but it’s scarred mum in a way that can’t be seen but is immeasurably felt.
Sometimes, it’s been a situation where mum was left feeling like she had no voice, therefore no choice. Things may not have been explained clearly enough for her to interpret between contractions. It’s not always possible to make informed decisions in a state of utter exhaustion. Sometimes I feel that the ‘everyday-ness’ of the job for the medical professionals means that the miracle unfolding before them gets forgotten. It might be the fourth baby they’ve seen into the world that shift ... but it’s the first for the couple in the birthing suite. That is a sacred time that should not be rushed, interrupted or taken for granted.
Then there’s the other side…
If you had a wonderful birth experience, I am genuinely excited and thrilled for you. And you definitely have the right to share that positive experience (quite frankly, not enough positive birth stories get told). BUT (there’s always a 'but'), be mindful of how you share it. If you have a friend who had a tough, or even traumatic birth experience, there’s no reason why you can’t refer to your own positive experience so long as you listen to her first, then empathise with her ... and finally, with kindness and compassion, ask if there’s anything you can do to help her change that next time around. Can you recommend a particular mode of pregnancy care? A wonderful practitioner? A beautiful doula? A talented birth photographer? A great hospital or birthing centre? An experienced chiropractor, massage therapist or acupuncturist?
Either way, whether your experience was really positive or quite the opposite, if you don’t debrief about it at some point, it will resurface and need to be worked through (often more so if it was a negative birth experience). Many mums find that they can stuff those feelings away and just ‘get on’ with the full-time role of being mother to a newborn … until they fall pregnant again. Suddenly, the thought of giving birth again can paralyse them. With the right help, this can actually be a catalyst for making different decisions and setting up a great support network for birth preparation, the birth itself and the postpartum period.
Some mums find that their birth experience was so traumatic that they actually can’t be the mum they wanted to be. They can’t bond with their newborn, often experience feeding problems and sometimes, are in such anguish mentally and emotionally that they actually can’t look after themselves, let alone their baby. So whilst it’s often enough to just debrief with a friend, there are definitely situations where professional help is needed.
Here at The Nurtury, we offer birth debriefs as part of our Baby Care classes as well as in a more intimate home-visit setting. Sometimes, gaining insight from a midwife or doula (people who know birth), can help explain why things happened the way they did. This can offer some closure for mums who perhaps feel disappointed that their birth didn’t go according to plan. Sometimes they’ve come to terms with how things went, but would like some tools to empower them for next time.
We see the benefits of a good and safe debrief so often. We have quite a number of mums who say “I wasn’t going to come today; I haven’t been able to talk about my birth because I cry every time I think about it”. And yet, it’s these mums who, after talking, walk away from that session visibly lighter. It’s truly amazing. But what makes me sad is thinking about all the mums who don’t get to safely debrief about their birth. Who don’t get to have their questions answered. Who think they just need to move on … until they find themselves faced with birth again and they realise they haven’t. Or who spiral into postnatal depression, because the pressure just builds and builds.
Processing your birth is the first step towards loving and nurturing yourself, so that you can nurture and love your family. Although we all know that having a healthy baby is the desired result, how that comes about does matter.
Please, don’t underestimate how important it is to talk through your birth experience; or indeed, to listen to that of another woman. And if you or someone you know needs a little help from a professional, don’t hesitate to call us here at The Nurtury. We can arrange a birth debrief with you, or put you in touch with a counsellor with experience in working through trauma.
Jen is a midwife with almost 20 years experience in a Sydney birthing unit. She now lives & works on the Central Coast, supporting new mothers as they transition into motherhood.
Ingrid is a birth & postpartum doula, living and working on the beautiful NSW Central Coast.